In normal times, Leah Berenguel Senn works as a flight attendant for the German low-cost airline Eurowings. She’s a Customer Service Manager, the same rank as a purser in many airlines – it’s an important, safety-critical job but like so many flight attendants, Leah has found her skills surplus to requirements. The Corona-crisis means there is nothing normal about how we live our lives right now, especially for millions of aviation workers.
Instead of preparing to fly families and business leaders around Europe, Leah has found herself placed onto short-time work – a type of involuntary furlough where the German-government pays a percentage of her usual wages. Such measures are, however, time-limited and Eurowings has warned staffers that thousands may be made redundant as the COVID-19 wreaks havoc to the airline industry.
Like so many others, Leah has taken to looking for part-time work to top up her reduced wages to see her through the crisis. “Unsurprisingly, it wasn’t that easy,” the Stuttgart-based flight attendant says of her search for alternative employment.
There is, though, one line of work where employers are crying out for more workers. Leah has found work picking strawberries at a local farm. Travel restrictions and border closures have prevented many of the seasonal harvest workers who travel from Eastern Europe reaching farms in Germany, Spain, the UK and elsewhere.
Despite a massive effort by the German government to transport some 40,000 Romanian harvest workers into the country, there is still a massive shortfall. A few days ago, the UK government announced only a third of migrant harvest assistants were working in farms.
“Working as a harvesting assistant is a real tough job,” Leah admits. “We are lucky that our strawberries are grown at eye level in greenhouses. That makes harvesting easier.” She’s under pressure to pick quality fruit at speed and she admits the physical nature of the job means she’s very happy when the working day draws to an end.
“I really have the greatest respect for all seasonal workers who do their best every day, regardless of the wind and weather,” she says of the land army of migrant workers.
“Of course, my day-to-day work is currently completely different than before the pandemic. I miss putting on my uniform, greeting our guests, seeing the sea and having that certain crew life,” Leah admits. “I can hardly wait until I can accompany hundreds of people on their vacation every day and enjoy the sunrise over the clouds every now and then.”
“But we still need a little patience. I believe that when everything starts up again, we all enjoy everyday things a lot more.”
For now though, Leah and so many other furloughed workers will find themselves doing a very different job this summer. A job that at the very least still has plenty of vacancies.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.